G R E E N  P L A C E S  - 
C O N T A I N I N G  N A T U R E.

When asked what kind of photographer I am, I used to reply that I was a landscape photographer. Then when showing my work, people would inevitably be surprised by seeing images of land often transformed by humankind’s technological development - images of motorways, factories and power stations just did not fit in with what people generally understood as landscape.

Landscape photography still means for most people, images of nature without the traces of human presence that we associate of the world we live in. Most of the landscape photographs we see are travel brochures and post cards, which do not include such modern ingredients as power lines cutting the sky, or industrial sprawl.

Landscape has gained a wider definition that is still being investigated by critics such as W.J.T. Mitchell who has said that "Landscape is not a genre of art but a medium". He points out in this essay that "landscape aesthetics... include poetry, fiction, travel literature and landscape gardening." Perhaps more importantly he brings to our attention that beneath the surface of landscape art there lies moral, ideological, and political messages and meaning that are often hidden and unexplained.

The photographs were made for a research project for Gothenburg University, that I started in 1991. From the beginning the project had a working title "The Tourist Landscape". I wanted to investigate how the world’s fastest growing industry - tourism - was changing and transforming the land and our view of nature. Finally I concentrated on areas in Scandinavia and England where nature was controlled, contained and disciplined ; "Green Places", parks, gardens and spaces open to the public are maintained today for recreational purposes, but reflect a cultural attitude towards the natural world that has been changing over the past centuries.
I worked with the project during the summers of 1991-1996 and walked many miles in what must be called pleasant surroundings - no threats from wild beasts or poisonous snakes and very few insects. The only threats were from humans, that sometimes use these areas for dubious and unlawful purposes. Visiting and revisiting the same places over and over again.
I did not try to pass judgement. I was often quite undecided as to how I felt about these areas: beautiful art, or pathetic expressions of humanity’s attempts to rule the natural world? Maybe both. And more.

Nowadays, when asked about what kind of photographer I am, I reply by saying that my work is about my interpretation of our relationship with nature - how we (as western Europeans) interact with the natural world about us. It is of course a complicated answer to a simple question and usually means that it is easier to show some images.

John S. Webb
August 1997